Summertime in southern France should be about lazy, warm afternoons – complete with a cold cocktail and nice meal. The unique flavour combinations and fresh, locally sourced food make this geographic style of cooking a delightful adventure.
Whether you are enjoying cities like Avignon, Tarascon, Nice or other destinations on French river cruises, or dreaming of a holiday from your own kitchen, southern French food brings together a variety of distinct flavours and ingredients. There is cuisine from the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region and there is Cuisine de Niçois. Both are very distinctive from the rest of French cuisine or French cooking, but both are the perfect way to enjoy the ingredients of summer.
There are Mediterranean influences that bring in hot spices and seafood. Although there are rich farmlands and herds of dairy cattle, Provençal cooking uses very little milk and goat cheeses are predominantly used. The fundamental dishes are based on garlic, olive oil and olives, and the abundant herbes de Provence.
There are some basic dishes that kitchens in Provence feature on a regular basis. Relatively easy to complete, these can all serve as foundations for the summertime table. The bouillabaisse may be the king of local cooking. The signature dish of Marseille, it has four main components: the broth, the fish, the bread and the rouille – a seasoned mayonnaise. A type of fish stew, it can be made with a variety fish and complemented with fresh vegetables.
For a basic bouillabaisse, try the following from Epicurious.
Another common Provençal meal is the Daube. Although it originated as a poor man’s solution, this Provençal beef stew remains a favourite. Beef is slowly braised in red wine, vegetables, garlic and herbs. It is often served with polenta or gnocchi. In Nice, they make another version of the daube called raviolis à la daube. Ravioli pasta pockets are stuffed with the stewed beef and served in the sauce.
Cuisine de Niçoise
Unlike some other French tastes, southern style cooking does not typically use heavy sauces or complicated methods to create flavours. Common dishes are socca, panisses, nonats, tourtes aux blettes and gnocchis. The traditional, and possibly the most famous, meal is the salade Niçoise. The light dish is a combination of tomatoes, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives and anchovies. It is usually dressed with a vinaigrette. If you would like create one of your own, here is Nigella’s take.
For those of you with a sweet tooth, cheeses and desserts are not major parts of Niçoise foods. However, biscuits and beignets are often brought to the table to top off a meal.
There are great number of online guides to help you with Niçoise cooking. Rose Prince, a food writer and regular columnist for The Telegraph, recently wrote about her experiences as a child learning how to cook in the Niçoise style.
Summer Cocktails in Sunny South of France
Puddings may not be found on a lot of southern menus, but there a great number of refreshing cocktails to enjoy towards the end of a summer’s day. With the abundance of local wines and fresh fruits, many drinks are the perfect marriage of the two.
Pastis is the favourite drink of Provence and recently topped the list as the top in all of France. A replacement for absinthe, the anise-based liqueur is a versatile and refreshing drink. The popularity of pastis may be part of an old tradition of Mediterranean anise liquors like Sambuca, ouzo, mastika, arak and raki.
If anise is not your style, perhaps you would like to try a blackberry Bellini:
100ml cold sparkling rosé (preferably pink prosecco)
A handful of ripe, juicy blackberries
30ml plain vodka
10ml lemon juice
One teaspoon caster sugar
Place the blackberries in a cocktail shaker and muddle – gently squash them – with the back of a long spoon. Add ice cubes, vodka, lemon juice and sugar and shake, then strain into a champagne flute. Top up with cold sparkling rosé.